Should We Be Blaming the Aurora Theater Shooter's Parents?

05/22/2015 01:12 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016

This morning, I looked up at one of the national morning shows on television that noted James Holmes's parents had attended every day of their son's trial, which is in its 15th day in Centennial, Colorado. Almost three years ago, James Holmes went into a midnight showing of the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and shot up the theater, killing 12 people and wounding 70. According to Wikipedia, James Holmes allegedly is responsible for "the largest number of casualties of any shooting in U.S. history."

I confess I haven't paid that much attention to his trial, beyond tracking its general progress on news websites. After I saw that banner this morning, I dug a little deeper and ran across a compelling LA Times story, posted after the first week of the trial, by Maria L. LaGanga, entitled, "Parents of Colorado Theatre gunman James Holmes keep a lonely vigil." We're two more weeks into a trial that could last months and I can only imagine that lonely vigil will get lonelier. Before the trial, people identified James Holmes as the red-haired, wild-and-wide-eyed gunman who shot up all those people. Now, other pictures have been added to the Holmes portrait gallery ; this time of normal, albeit worn-looking, middle-aged Robert and Arlene Holmes, with photographs of them walking into court or court renderings of them sitting stoically behind their son. Robert and Arlene Holmes have stopped being whoever they were and have gained a new, grisly, identity.

The Holmes's lonely vigil didn't need to be on public display. They could have hidden out in seclusion, avoiding the courtroom. Back in July of 2013, the judge in this case, Carlos Samour, issued a ruling, at the request of the defense attorneys, allowing Robert and Arlene Holmes to be exempt from the usual sequestration order that prohibits individuals who might be called to testify in a trial from watching the trial prior to their testimony. So, Robert and Arlene Holmes sit and watch and listen as other people and other parents describe in excruciating detail the damage and pain and terror caused by the actions of their son. A part of me cannot help but be touched by such a commitment.

As soon as I say that, the doubt starts to ooze in. On one hand, I want to commend them for their commitment to their son. On the other hand, that son, as seen by victims and their families, is a monster. In LaGanga's LA Times piece, she quotes a tweet from one such family member at the trial, remarking [sic], "The Monsters parents & uncle staring at us, the cops crying on the stand, the killer playing the jury = Hard week." How can I find anything commendable about Robert and Arlene Holmes when they are "The Monster's parents?"

This isn't the first time I've written about the parent of a wide-eyed monster. The last time was back in December of 2013, when I noted that the 26 bells tolled for victims of the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, failed to include Lanza's first victim, his mother, Nancy. About that omission, I wrote, "But, somehow, Nancy Lanza was never really counted as a victim." It seemed to me back then that Nancy Lanza was tainted through guilt by association. As a parent, she was deemed somehow partially responsible for the monster her son became. Now, the same thing may be happening to Robert and Arlene Holmes; yet, knowing that, they still enter the courtroom every day.

When inexplicable tragedies happen, we seek to find an avenue for blame. If we can establish blame, we can establish cause. If we can establish cause, then, maybe, we can find a way to keep "it" from happening again. We can't understand Adam Lanza or James Holmes; blaming Nancy Lanza or Robert and Arlene Holmes may simply feel safer.